‘We live in a post-Christian age.’ This is the refrain that is often heard when discussing the present-day conditions of the Christian Church in the West. Post-Christian culture, post-Christian society, post-Christian ethics, post-Christian values … are all rubrics under which more or less worried discussions take place in Christian circles which try to analyse the contemporary scenario. Apart from the intellectual challenges that it evokes, the reference to ‘post-Christian’ something brings an anxious element to the conversation. A sense of loss, a perceived danger, a coming threat are all associated with the concerns about the direction that the Western world is taking away from traditional Christianity. The cost of living in a post-Christian century is that things will no longer be as easy or friendly as they used to be. The assumption is that in a post-Christian age, following Christ will be tough, tougher than in the past. The Church will need to learn how to live on the fringes as a politically-incorrect outsider, rather than being a stakeholder of the sacred alliance between the altar (or pulpit) and the throne (or power). A spiritual paradigm-shift is needed to change from the maintenance mood of the Christian era when Christian institutions set the stage of mainstream culture to a ‘missional’, adventurous and unprotected age in which Christians will be felt as alien intruders in an increasingly unhospitable world.
Whatever ‘post’ means, in Europe at least, our post-Christian time is still an age in which topography is replete with Christian names (e.g. Notre Dame, Saint Peter, Saint Paul), most established churches continue to have a privileged status in society (e.g. receiving funding from the state in some way) and the calendar is still shaped by Christian festivals – Christmas and Easter being central in most countries (although with eclectic meanings attached to them). The public space is increasingly irritated by the participation of the Christian voice in the public discourse or even by its mere presence but there are still vast areas where the Christian presence is solidly embedded in the system: Christian schools are all over, church buildings mark the territory, new churches continue to be planted, Christian public witness is generally possible although more demanding and often criticised by secular voices. Sometime the post-Christian attitude has a more institutional dimension whereby the Constantinian settlement (i.e. the majority church has a favoured position in society) is challenged and the role of the church is no longer seen as providing civic and universal services. At other times the post-Christian tendency aims at overcoming the Christian moral framework by making individual choice absolute at the expense of the ethical limits and constrains which used to be defined by Judeo-Christian basic values.
So, there is still homework to do in order to grasp the post-Christian Zeitgeist of our age. A simplistic reading of it may reinforce superficial analyses and lead to short-sighted courses of action. Cultural exegesis needs the breath of a cultural hermeneutics shaped by a Christian worldview nurtured by historical awareness and a comprehensive overview of cultural trends. Neither anxiety for a perceived threat nor parochial perceptions of the problem are sufficient ingredients for a mature Christian discernment.